Who can have it?
Breast screening is primarily recommended for women aged 50 to 74, however women are able to come from age 40 if they wish.
Women aged 50 to 74
If you are a woman in this age group, it is estimated that by having a screening mammogram every two years, you can reduce your chance of dying from breast cancer by around 41%.
BreastScreen SA invites most women from age 50 via a letter. You will then be invited again for your next breast screen every two years until the age of 74.
Women aged 40 to 49
Women aged 40 to 49 are welcome to come for breast screening if they wish. If you choose to begin screening in your forties, you will be invited for your next breast screen every two years.
Women aged 75 and older
As research is less clear about the benefits of breast screening for women aged over 74, we will no longer send you appointment invitations if you are in this age group.
However, as the risk of getting breast cancer continues to increase with age and does not stop at 75, you are welcome to continue having regular breast screens if you wish. You may like to discuss your options with your GP before deciding if breast screening is still the right choice for you.
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer are encouraged to start breast screening from the age of 40.
A woman is said to have a strong family history if she has one of the following:
- a first-degree relative (mother/sister/daughter, father/brother/son) with breast cancer diagnosed before the age of 50
- a first-degree relative with cancer in both breasts (diagnosed at any age)
- two or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer (diagnosed at any age).
We recommend that you discuss your individual circumstances with your GP.
Are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Regular screening mammograms are recommended for women taking HRT. Women with concerns regarding HRT should discuss them with their GP.
Have breast implants, pacemakers or other medical devices
Breast screening is considered safe for women with breast implants, however women who have a breast implant following surgery for breast cancer are advised to attend their breast specialist for ongoing care, including annual mammograms. Further information for these women is provided in our brochure Have you had breast cancer in the past?
Women with pacemakers or defibrillators can usually still have a screening mammogram. These devices are strong and not easily damaged. Nevertheless, we take extra care and may need to use special techniques to obtain high-quality X-rays. More information can be found in our Screening for women with implants.
Are living with a disability
It is recommended that women living with a disability contact BreastScreen SA on 13 20 50 to discuss their personal health requirements and/or individual circumstances prior to making a booking. Women with a disability may be referred to a medical officer or nurse counsellor to identify and discuss any potential barriers to having a breast screen.
For those women who are able to meet the physical requirements for having a breast screen, our highly-trained female radiographers will modify their technique to ensure a high-quality image is achieved. Longer appointments may also be arranged to ensure your breast screen is achieved with a minimal amount of stress and discomfort to you.
All metropolitan BreastScreen SA clinics are wheelchair accessible, however there are size and weight restrictions for some wheelchairs attending the mobile screening units. Undergoing a screening mammogram in a wheelchair requires specific techniques to ensure clear images can be taken of each breast, which is essential in detecting any subtle breast changes.
The following criteria must be met successfully for a woman to undergo a screening mammogram. A woman must:
- be able to support herself
- have sufficient mobility to sit forward on her own
- have sufficient upper body muscle control to maintain the positions required
- must have sufficient mobility to raise her arms to 90 degrees (horizontal) on her own, or with the help of a carer or support person
- must be able to remain still at the time of image exposure (approximately 30 seconds). This may be an issue for women living with moderate neurological tremors, as they compromise a still picture.
If you are unsure if you are able to have a screening mammogram, please call BreastScreen SA on 13 20 50 and speak with one of our Medical Officers about your options.
Screening is not suitable for…
Women aged under 40
Women under 40 are not able to screen with BreastScreen SA as there is not enough evidence at this stage to show that regular breast screening reduces the number of breast cancer deaths in this age group.
The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, with 75% of breast cancer cases in Australia diagnosed in women over the age of 50 (less than 5% of breast cancer cases in Australia occur in women under the age of 40).
The breast tissue of younger women can be denser than those over 50. This dense glandular tissue appears white on screening mammograms, as does breast cancer. This makes screening mammograms less effective at showing small changes in the breast tissue.
As women age and go through menopause, this dense tissue turns into fatty tissue, which appears grey/black on an X-ray – making small white breast cancers easier to see. This is why screening mammograms are a much more effective tool for breast cancer screening for women aged over 50.
Women under 40 are encouraged to be breast aware, and if you notice a change in your breasts, to see you GP as soon as possible to have it checked.
If you are under 40 and you have a strong family history of breast cancer, speak to your GP about your options for breast cancer surveillance.
There is currently no clinically proven screening test for breast cancer for women under 40.
Women who have had breast cancer in the past 5 years
BreastScreen SA is not the best place for women to have mammograms if they have had breast cancer within the past 5 years. It is very important that you have regular check-ups because you are at increased risk of developing breast cancer again. These regular check-ups should involve a thorough breast examination and general check by a doctor, annual mammograms and other tests as recommended.
Women are eligible to attend the screening program after 5 years, at the discretion of their treating specialist or GP.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
Women who are breastfeeding are not eligible for screening until at least three months after they have stopped breastfeeding.
If you are pregnant you will not be screened. Please inform the radiographer before having a breast screen.
Men and breast cancer
Men are not eligible to attend BreastScreen SA. Although men can develop breast cancer, the incidence is very low. In South Australia in 2008:
- there were 12 new cases of breast cancer in males, compared to 1121 new cases in females
- there was one death from breast cancer in males, but 234 deaths from breast cancer in females
If a man of any age becomes aware of a symptom, such as a lump or nipple discharge, or any other change in his breasts, he should contact his GP as soon as possible to arrange further investigation.
For more information on breast cancer in men, see Cancer Australia.